I spotted a cardinal on my Sunday walk. It feels noteworthy, and worth mentioning here. Though when it comes to ideas of what the cardinal sighting might signify, I’ve come up a bit empty.
So I’ll start with a comparison to my last red bird sighting, chronicled here: The Summer Tanager. The location was the same: City Park’s Couturie Forest. And the two birds’ smallish size was roughly the same. But the birds looked very different — the tanager was a brilliant, uniform red, with no crest. The little guy I saw last weekend definitely had a crest, but the feathers were reddish-brown. More similar to the photo above, than to the St. Louis MLB mascot.
As to what the little bird was trying to tell me, maybe it’s just that Spring is almost here. Returning home, I captured the other photo featured here. Two Japanese magnolia trees guard the entrance to the tennis courts on Marconi Drive. A branch on the southernmost one framed the walking path, my way home, just so. I posted the photo to Instagram, with a comment about the vernal equinox being just days away.
Writing-wise, I have some specific intentions for the early days of Spring. The time has come to apply a critical eye to my marketing efforts (for my two novels, and the upcoming third). My advertising exploits have been haphazard up ’til now. And who am I kidding? They will probably continue to be somewhat haphazard for a bit longer, while I figure out what works better than not.
Maybe the little cardinal was a sign that paying attention to my author outreach, at this point in time, will be time well-spent.
Magical thinking or not, I can’t help but think positive things when I see the little red birds.
On a quick jaunt into New Orleans City Park’s Couturie Forest, I thought of a term I remember hearing in my youth: riprap. Riprap is “loose stone used to form a foundation for a breakwater or other structure.” That’s what my dad called the broken concrete that lines the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. The levee that rings the south shore of this brackish lake was just a two-block walk from the house where I grew up, so I spent much of my childhood around riprap.
I think the word is still in use, I just don’t hear it much anymore. Perhaps because my day-to-day life does not involve constructing shoreline structures. (More’s the pity.) And the purpose of this post is not to share any deep observation about figurative, or metaphoric, riprap. I’m coming up empty, there. So instead, I thought I might share a few details about Laborde Mountain.
Laborde Mountain sits within City Park’s Couturie Forest, and the Internet tells me it was made from riprap derived from the construction of nearby Interstate 610. (Which, coincidentally, is the Interstate that is overpassing in the title of my novel, The Incident Under the Overpass.) The peak of Laborde Mountain is 43 feet above sea level, and is the highest point in the city of New Orleans.
Here are some pictures, where you can see the interesting composition of riprap around here. That’s it for today!
So, winter officially begins this Friday at 4:23 pm local NOLA time. According to an article I found on mentalfloss.com, this specific time corresponds to the moment the North Pole is pointed furthest away from the sun. It’s also the specific moment when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.
I’m not a huge fan of winter. I’ve probably stated that here before. It doesn’t get super-cold in New Orleans, and we rarely have to deal with the problematic logistics of trying to get to places dealing with snow and ice, so I understand that there are worse places to winter. But it does get cold here. . .a windy and damp cold. And it still gets dark early.
But that leads me to the thing I love to celebrate about the solstice—it’s the turning point. After Friday at 4:34 pm, the nights will start getting shorter. Ever so gradually, until we all find ourselves at 10:54 am on Friday, June 21, 2019. (That’s the next summer solstice, when we’ll have the longest day and the shortest night).
The impending change of season has me reflecting on the one just past. Speaking for myself, the Fall of 2018 was a good one! I was blessed with the opportunity to reconnect with distant, long-time friends (Tamara, Stacey, Carol, and Christine); I traveled to Houston and Amsterdam; the Saints are having a phenomenal football season. And, oh yeah, MY SECOND NOVEL RELEASED.
Again, personally speaking, getting #2 out into the world was a huge boost to my confidence as a writer. Now, I’m sure I will still get in my own way, writing-wise, on a daily basis. But I also know what I can do—and continue to do— if I simply persevere.
Those feel like nice words to conclude my 2018 posts. . .I’m taking a break next week for the holiday, and will resume in the New Year. Happy Holidays, everyone, and thanks for reading!
In this post, I’ve shared some pictures from Fall 2018, that never made it to any social media outlet. . .
And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born
Then, it’s time to go
And you find your destination with so many different places to call home
Those are lyrics from “You Are A Tourist,” a song from alternative rock band Death Cab for Cutie. It’s from their 2011 album Codes and Keys, and it’s quite possibly one of my favorite songs of this decade. Easily in the top ten.
The song has been in my head since this past weekend. My friend Stacey (featured in Greece 1 and Greece 2) was in town from Los Angeles. We spent the weekend dining, browsing (and shopping) in local spots, taking a French Quarter ghost tour, and marveling at New Orleans’ holiday decorations. That last part—the holiday part—is something I almost never do. More than anything, that might be what had me feeling like a tourist. It was fun!
Pictured at the top of this post is something that caught my eye at the Roosevelt Hotel in the French Quarter. This hotel always does an amazing holiday array, and the lights really set off this statue. It’s called the “Mystery Lady Timepiece,” and its nameplate indicates it was displayed at the Paris Exhibitions of 1867 and 1878.
Concluding with those opening lyrics, for a few days, I did feel like a tourist in the city where I was born. And at earlier times in my life, I definitely felt (and answered) the call to “go,” finding different destinations to call home. But I realize now, writing is the journey that calls to me. The different destinations exist only in my mind’s eye, and it’s up to me to bring them to fruition.
Who knows. . .the “Mystery Lady” seems like she might have an interesting story. What has she witnessed between Paris in 1867 and New Orleans in 2018? Enquiring minds want to know. . .
The hawks were yelling at me. I don’t think I stumbled upon a quarrelsome moment amongst the raptors; I’m fairly certain they were aiming their shouts my way. And I’m pretty sure they were telling me to “Go away.”
It all began when I went out early one morning, just after sunrise. Just a jaunt around the neighborhood, to get a bit of exercise.
Headed north on Marconi Drive, I strayed to see if I could get a better look at Popp Fountain and the Arbor Room. I’ve seen Popp Fountain before, it’s one of those City Park staples that’s been around since 1937. But I’ve yet to see the Arbor Room from the inside, it’s one of the newest event venues in City Park.
As I approached an oak tree near the fence line, I heard a very distinctive cry coming from its branches. Not a chirping, not a raven’s “caw,” but similar in cadence. Higher-pitched and not as caustic as a raven, and it finished with a bit of a whistle.
Looking for the source, I spied a large bird with a white speckled breast, maybe twenty feet dead ahead and twenty feet above. A hawk! I scrambled for my phone, but the best I was able to capture is the picture at the end of this post. The hawk took its squawking to a higher, less visible branch of the oak tree right after I took that photo.
But it got me thinking–so much of what I love about meandering through City Park are the sounds.
So in the interest of “show, don’t tell,” here’s an attempt to “show in words” some sounds I noted on that same jaunt.
The haunting notes of a train horn, miles away
The staccato beats of a woodpecker across the lagoon
The caustic caws of a pair of ravens (yes, I realize I’m re-using that description)
The subversive trill of crickets below
The “ga-dunk” of cars passing overhead, as I traversed under the I-610 overpass (yes, this is a direct reference to my novel, The Incident Under the Overpass)
As I concluded my exercise loop, I returned to the hawk’s oak tree, to see if the bird of prey was still there, hoping to get a better photo, if so. And to conclude this post’s loop, I’ll go back to the beginning. Said hawk was still there…with reinforcements. And they were yelling at me. At least two birds aimed their plaintive cries my way. And by plaintive, I mean pretty wretched. My guess is they were protecting a nest, and didn’t want curious bi-peds (or predatory quadrupeds, for that matter) lollygagging around.
-Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost
There was nothing snowy nor frosty about the Couturie Forest, when I finally returned there one morning in early June. But it was so quiet and tranquil, the “lovely, dark and deep” line immediately popped into my head. I felt my mother with me—she was always one to quote poetry, or song lyrics.
I was glad the magical power I experienced there, during my trip last month, still held. To recap, the Couturie Forest is a part of New Orleans City Park, described on the City Park website as “the perfect place to escape from the city without ever leaving town.”
Indeed, the transportation spell is cast as soon as you cross the bridge into the forest. The sounds from the nearby road disappear. Signs of pestilence dissipate. (Prior to entering, I had some really bothersome horseflies after me. They did not follow me into the forest.)
The pictures featured here are all from the visit I made two weeks ago. I’ve returned once more since that time, and I intend on making many more visits in the days ahead. When there’s a surefire way to recharge my spirit in such close proximity, I’d be a fool to stay away.
On Memorial Day morning, I got up with the sunrise, with the intention of capturing some photos in City Park’s Couturie Forest. I visited there a few weeks ago (without a camera), and wrote about the experience here.
For the next several weeks, I intend to post more picture-heavy posts, rather than word-heavy posts. I’m going off the old adage of a picture being worth a thousand words. Because I really need to get cranking on the third and final story of the trilogy I’ve been working on. For what feels like forever. Certainly longer than I’ve had this blog.
So anyway, the intention with the pictures, is that maybe I will channel the writing energy into the novel, while still sharing glimpses of the things I find compelling about this strange and wondrous city.
As it turns out, the Couturie Forest pictures will have to come at another time. A pad-locked chain link fence kept me from entering Monday morning. I suspect it doesn’t open until after 7 a.m., and I was a bit early. So I trekked about another half mile north to the City Park Fishing Pier. It was a beautiful morning, and early enough so that it was still cool.
I checked the Couturie Forest gate on my way back from the fishing pier–no joy. (It was still a few minutes before seven o’clock.) I will try again next weekend.
Last Saturday began with no agenda, other than to get out and get some exercise. And to do this unplugged. I walked out my front door, maybe fifteen minutes after the official sunrise time of 6:14 a.m.
The next hour (plus) went a long way toward recharging my battery. Funny how unplugging can do that. The only reason I missed my phone was for its camera. It might have been nice to capture some photos of the eastern sky, which was awash in color for the first part of the walk. But I did get one shot before I left the house:
On the latter part of the walk, I took a detour into City Park’s Couturie Forest. It had been years since I’d ventured into this sylvan escape, even though I pass by it multiple times in any given week. Even on my more ambitious runs of days past (Saturday’s excursion was maybe 30% run, 70% walk), it didn’t make sense to venture into the forest. The paths there are definitely not meant for running, and I never felt I could spare the time to meander.
That feels foolish on my part, in retrospect.
Here’s a description of the Couturie Forest, from City Park’s website: “. . .the perfect place to escape from the city without ever leaving town! Combined with Scout Island, the 60-acre Couturie Forest is a nature-lover’s haven filled with native trees, scenic waterways, and fascinating wildlife — all in the heart of the New Orleans.”
It really is magical: you cross a small bridge, step onto a path, and instantly, the canopy of trees overhead muffle the sound of the roadway, no more than forty yards away. Well, that’s a guesstimate. . .the road is close, I know that much.
The highest point in New Orleans lies within the Couturie Forest. Climb Laborde Mountain, and you’ll be 43 feet above sea level. That was my first stop. There’s not much of a view, because the spot is surrounded by trees. But it sure is quiet up there.
There’s a lot more to write about the Couturie Forest, and I plan to visit again soon (with a camera). In the interest of not getting too long-winded, I’ll skip to my sighting upon exiting the forest. Around the bridge that marks the entrance (and exit), I saw a bright red bird, pecking away at the ground. It was still early, so maybe there were worms.
“A cardinal!” I thought. ‘Round these parts, I see robins, and blue jays, and these very loquacious green parrots; but cardinals are a lot rarer. But this little one didn’t have the features I’d associate with a cardinal: no black markings on the face, nor the comb atop the head.
I thought of my mother. . .while she wasn’t a birder, she was always one to pick up on the details of flora and fauna. I also thought of fellow blogger Dr. Rex, who wrote a lovely post about the meaning behind red birds and cardinals. (I hope you don’t mind me linking here, Dr. Rex!)
After conducting some sleuthing when I got back home, I decided the little red bird was a Summer Tanager, a member of the Cardinal family. Cornell’s Ornithology Lab has a very robust online library, that’s where I picked up the picture at the top of this post. (I hope I covered all the proper photo credits).
As often happens, I want to tie some direct spiritual or metaphysical meaning to my sighting of the Summer Tanager. It’s an exercise I have to remind myself, just as often, that’s fraught with peril. Trying to correlate cause and effect to these types of things never works out like I think it might. So I’ll just tie it to feelings. The things I was thinking and feeling during my unplugged walk, and the things that jumped out at me as I looked for the bird on the Internet:
I’m anticipating a convergence of my family members, coming into town for an upcoming wedding. It’s my niece’s wedding, she’s the second one of the next generation to get married, but it’s the first one my mom won’t be around for.
The first person I thought of when I saw the Summer Tanager was my mother.
The first line in Dr. Rex’s post about red birds is: “A cardinal is a representative of a loved one who has passed. When you see one, it means they are visiting you.”
So without going any deeper, I’ll just say that I’ll take this as an article of faith: that my mother will be with all her family as they gather here in the next week or so, in our hearts and memories. May her gentle spirit bless all the proceedings.
On a run through New Orleans City Park this past Saturday, something caught my eye. My runs these days are a sorta walk-run combo, so I’m not opposed to breaking my stride to satisfy my curiosity. I’m at a point in my life where finding the unexpected is more important to me than reaching some particular cardiovascular fitness milestone.
I was pleased to find a few thistles blooming, right at the shoreline of the lagoon. When you think of New Orleans flora, “thistle” is not one of the first plants to come to mind. Not for me, at least. So these prickly, lilac-colored-bloom beauties were a pleasant surprise.
They were in a fairly secluded area of City Park, set back about fifty yards from the nearest roadway, but only a few feet off the paved walking path. I don’t like to run with my phone, so I made an intention to return the next day for a more leisurely picture-taking expedition.
That’s where the story comes in.
I was out and about early on Sunday morning, so I cheated and drove to the thistle spot. Or rather, I parked near there as I made my way back home. Traipsing the fifty yards across the grass and fallen oak leaves, I could see someone was already there ahead of me. I first thought it was a photographer, setting up to get their own thistle pic. (Photographers are definitely not a rare sight in City Park.)
As I approached, I could see it was a man closing up a backpack. It looked like a nice, solid backpack, not something cobbled together. And he seemed pretty intent on his task—striking camp, I assumed—and not so interested in the nearby runners and / or amateurish iPhone photographers.
But still, I had to do one of those instant threat/need assessments. You know, all the questions and answers that run through your head in a split second. “Does this person look dangerous?” Maybe, but he’s behind and bent over his pack, so it’s not like he’s lying in wait. “Does this person look like they need help?” He does not look like he needs or wants help. “Is this person supposed to be camping here?” Probably not, but I’m not about to call him out on it.
So in that instant, I decided to proceed with a few quick thistle pictures, but not dally doing it. I told him “Good morning” as I approached the lagoon’s edge. He looked up, but didn’t respond. (That’s when I got the idea that he neither needed or wanted any kind of attention). I took the photos, and then hightailed it out of there.
Being a fiction writer, I’ve had nothing but possibilities running through my head ever since. Daylight savings time had begun just about seven hours earlier, so did backpack man think he was striking his camp earlier than he actually was? Was he wondering why so many runners, walkers, and just general people were out so blooming early?
And then, don’t get me started on the thistles. Are they a sign for off-the-grid backpackers, “Here You May Camp”? Kind of like the scarlet pimpernel? Or does some scout come and seed them for off-the-grid backpackers? Is there a Secret Society of the Thistle?
Reality still creeps in. I don’t want it to seem like I am making light of this person’s circumstances. I get the gravitas. Outdoor living is tough, and especially so if it’s not by choice. My sense was his was mostly by choice. But my sense has been wrong before.
Which brings me to one of those things I’ve learned about writing, my writing, in the eight or so years I’ve been at it. And here it is: ideas for fiction—even the zaniest ideas, especially the zaniest ideas—are rarely worth pursuing if they aren’t backed up somehow by the weight and gravity of the real world.